Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon

Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: 'Beowulf' as Metaphor

ALVIN A. LEE
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 292
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442675407
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  • Book Info
    Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon
    Book Description:

    Demonstrates how Beowulf?s symbolic system reveals itself through the metaphorical workings of the Old English words, and how the poem might have been experienced and interpreted by the Anglo-Saxons in the light of other Old English poems.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7540-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    A.L.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    The aim of this book is to help re-create as fully as possible for modern-day readers the original metaphorical force of the poetic language ofBeowulf. By thorough immersion in the words of the poem, its internal verbal patternings, and its narratives, and by articulation of thears poeticaused in doing this work of critical renovation, I offer an intensive verbal and imaginative experience ofBeowulfand a theoretical explanation of how that experience is made possible. The book provides a new way of reading and understanding the poem. It is an invitation to others to think about this...

  5. Part I: Modes of Imagining and the Workings of Words

    • 1 Wunder œfter Wundre: Modes of Imagining
      (pp. 9-52)

      When the hero is first mentioned inBeowulf, theScyldingas‘Sons [or ‘Men’] of Shield’ are at the nadir of their experience. In complete contrast with their earlier happy condition when the great hall Heorot first was ready for guests, these noble ones have now endured twelve years of Grendel’s slaughters. Some of them are caught in devil worship (175–88) and are honouring the very power that is destroying them.¹Hroðgar‘Glory Spear,’ who broods endlessly on the time of trouble, is completely powerless to uphold the former dynastic glory of the house of the Scyldings (189–93). Having...

    • 2 Word Oðer Fand: The Inwardness of Kennings
      (pp. 53-83)

      Words used in the grammatical formulations that we think of as sentences are always to some degree self-referential. They turn away from externals into the world of word-ordering itself. This tendency is pronounced in Old English poetry, where syntactical considerations are strongly influenced by dependence on the formulaic resources of the word-hoard and by compliance with the auditory and semantic demands of alliteration and markedly accentual rhythm. These strong centripetal or internal poetic pressures ensure that whatever empirical observation lies behind the words being used it will have been imaginatively displaced and fitted to poetic needs and purposes. Old English...

    • 3 Pryðword Sprecen: The Language of Myth and Metaphor
      (pp. 84-113)

      In one important way the experiencing of the poetic language ofBeowulfis not unlike what happens when we open our minds to the verbal imaginings in a play by Shakespeare. Both the poem and the play involve a highly metaphorical art heavily dependent on patterns of sound and imagery to establish rich and often strange perceptions, intuitions, and identities. The word-play is meant to take us well beyond the language of rationalist logic or simple description. In bothBeowulfand Shakespeare the fictional beings that we encounter, human and non-human, often are surrounded by multiple verbal associations. As happens...

    • 4 Ealdgesegena Worn Gemunde: Memory and Identity
      (pp. 114-138)

      More than any other of the extant long narrative poems in Old English,Beowulfis an intensive, respectful remembering and re-creating of the world of the Germanic dryht, from imaginative perspectives shaped in significant ways by biblical myth. In this poem the aristocratic world of the dryht in middle earth is the main object of attention. It is imagined with a plenitude and detail accorded it in no other extant text. Its social and political forms, its rituals, its concept of property, its sense of ancestral and kinship values, and its definitions of ethical human behaviour all are presented with...

  6. Part II: Structure and Meaning

    • 5 Fyr on Flode: War against the Creation
      (pp. 141-176)

      Early in part II ofBeowulf, the narrator tells of the destruction of ‘the best of buildings’ (bolda selest, 2326a), the royal hall and gift-throne of Geatland, by a fire-dragon who is enraged that his long-hoarded treasure has been disturbed while he sleeps. An unnamed fugitive characterized as ‘a sin-troubled man’ (secg synbysig, 2226a) has taken a shining treasure-cup and then, seeing the sleeping dragon, has fled in terror and gone to his lord, with whom he has successfully made a ‘peace-treaty’ (frioðowœre, 2281). The furious dragon goes berserk and sets out to wreak total vengeance on the land of...

    • 6 Swa Sceal Man Don: Germanic Tales and Christian Myths
      (pp. 177-204)

      Grendel’s unwillingness ‘to settle with money’ (fea þingian, 156) or to pay any compensation has a clear meaning on the literal-historical level of the narrative, where it serves to advance the plot by initiating against the Scyldings a hostile action that somehow must be dealt with if they are to recapture any of their former well-being. On the level of allegory, of typicality, Grendel is the enemy of the Creator and also ‘the enemy of mankind’ (feond mancynnes, 164b, 1276). As a ‘creature not healthy,’ ‘a creature of damnation’ (Wiht unhœlo, 120b), he is a being not functioning as he...

    • 7 Heold on Heahgesceap: The Structure of the Poem, the Heroic Theme, and the Shape of the Hero’s Life
      (pp. 205-231)

      InBeowulfthe foreground action does not beginin medias res, as it does in the more ample epics of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton. The action begins rather at the beginning of the story of the Scyldings, with the symbolism of the archetypal child Scyld, set adrift, exposed, vulnerable, and yet through divine grace soon to be hugely powerful: weakness and power, emergent life and death, all are in play together in this brief narrative, forming an epitome of the larger poem which they introduce. The story continues through a high point in the Scyldings’ existence (the building of...

    • 8 Nu Is Wilgeofa ... Deaðbedde Fœst: Tragedy and the Limits of Heroism
      (pp. 232-251)

      The total pattern of Beowulf’s life is lived out against a social background in which death and ruin – through war, bloodshed, treachery, accidents, weakness, and cowardice – inexorably become the dominant features. Beowulf is the greatest of men between the seas, standing against all the human and subhuman monstrosities and chaos of his time. On the whole he is a happy warrior, capable of rage when this is needed but able to rejoice in his work. He is happy in the way that only the truly magnanimous can be. Although his life is primarily one of action, it is...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 252-254)

    This exploration of theBeowulfthat we may think we know has been a ransacking and sorting through of those elements of the Old English word-hoard that are used in the poem, in the hope of putting the metaphors back together as once they must have been. If the attempt has been even partly successful, the poem should have emerged in a new, energizing way.

    But how did it all begin? asks the poet-narrator, looking back on Danish history. How will it all end, for the Sons of Shield and for the fabulous warrior who for a time brings relief...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 255-262)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-270)
  10. Index
    (pp. 271-280)